April Fools’ Day is not a Christian holiday, but maybe it ought to be. “We are fools for the sake of Christ,” St. Paul said (1 Corinthians 4:10), a maxim that quite a few saints embraced wholeheartedly. Help your kids be “fools for Christ” this April Fools’ Day with some of the following ideas—and then read about some of the “holy foolishness” of the saints in the Talking Points section.
► Silly clothes. Wear silly hair, a goofy hat, or funny clothes—or wear your clothes mismatched, or inside out, like St. Philip Neri did (see below).
►Silly dance contest. Inspired by St. Philip Neri again, make up a silly song and dance on the spot. Have a contest to see who can come up with the silliest moves or lyrics; bonus points for doing it in public.
► Turn things upside down and backwards. Take a cue from the example of St. Francis by turning a few things upside down around the house: the kitchen table, chairs, pictures, etc.; or eat a meal under the table instead of on it. Do a handstand in public, if you can, or walk around backwards.
► Funny flowers. Re-enact God’s little joke on the King of Portugal: buy a bouquet of flowers and secretly distribute them for others to find in surprising places—the bread cupboard, a lunch bag, a coat pocket, a mailbox, “growing” out of a bookshelf.
► Tell holy jokes. Find a collection of (non-offensive) Christian or Catholic jokes; you’ll find some links below.
Talking Points: The Holy Foolishness of the Saints
As you have fun putting a Christian twist on April Fools’ Day, point out that joy, playfulness, and a willingness to be a fool (made possible by the virtue of humility) are essential to following Jesus.
Joy, light-heartedness, and humor are common characteristics of the saints, says Fr. James Martin, S.J., in Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life (HarperOne, 2011). “The happiness of the saints flows from their closeness to God and from the perspective on life that their faith brought them,” he says (page 76). Following Christ almost requires a sense of humor, since his ways are often considered backwards, impractical, and even foolish.
Here are a few examples of the “holy foolishness” of the saints:
► St. Francis and the cabbages. St. Francis once tested two young men who wanted to join his community. He took them to the garden and told them to plant cabbages upside down, with the heads in the dirt and the roots in the air. One of the young men complied; the other sensibly suggested that it was customary for cabbages to have their roots planted firmly in the ground. Francis gently suggested that the sensible man return to live among the other sensible people of the world. Francis often boasted of being a fool for Christ; sometimes, he knew, following the way of love meant doing things upside down—at least from the world’s perspective.
► The foolish generosity of Brother Juniper. One of Francis’s first companions, Brother Juniper, was widely known for his simplicity and holy foolishness. He was so eager to help those in need that he often gave away whatever was at hand, even if it wasn’t his: books, clocks, silver altar bells, and once, a neighbor’s pig. (The other brothers learned not to leave anything valuable lying around.) His superior actually ordered him to stop giving away his clothes to poor beggars; Juniper responded by slyly suggesting to one beggar that he couldn’t give away his tunic, but he wouldn’t stop the beggar from taking it.
► The practical jokes of St. Philip Neri. St. Philip Neri, a popular sixteenth-century Italian priest, often pulled humorous, self-deprecating stunts as an act of humility. On one occasion, he shaved off half his beard and his hair when visiting a wealthy friend. He often wore his clothes inside out, or dressed up in outlandish costumes. Another time he performed a ridiculous dance before a group of cardinals while singing a made-up nonsense song. The sign above his door read, “The House of Mirth.”
► St. Lawrence fools the Romans. As part of the persecution of Christians under the Roman emperor Valerian, St. Lawrence was given three days to hand over the riches of the Church to the prefect of Rome. Instead, he secretly gave away everything of value, and went to the prefect accompanied by a small crowd of poor, widowed, and disabled people, presenting them as the true treasure of the Church. The prefect apparently didn’t get the joke; he had Lawrence executed. According to legend, while he was being roasted alive, he told his executioners, “I’m done on this side; turn me over!”
► The ridiculous tasks of St. John of Egypt. St. John of Egypt, one of the early Desert Fathers, spent ten years in training with a hermit. In order to teach him humility and obedience, the hermit ordered John to water and care for a dead stick in the ground as if it were a live plant—for an entire year! Other times he had John move heavy boulders from one location to another for no apparent reason. He also was made to perform other “ridiculous tasks” not specified by his hagiographer.
► The playfulness of St. Theresa of Avila. St. Theresa of Avila is well-known for her playful way of addressing God in prayer. “I am more afraid of one unhappy sister than a crowd of evil spirits,” she said. “What would happen if we hid what little sense of humor we had? Let each of us humbly use this to cheer others.”
► St. Elizabeth of Portugal’s stubborn cheerfulness. “A cheerful countenance shows a serene heart,” said St. Elizabeth, queen of Portugal from 1288 to 1336. Cheerfulness and serenity would have been challenging for anyone to maintain in the Portuguese court, given the temper of her husband and her son. Once, she even prevented a war between them by mounting a donkey and riding into the middle of the battlefield between the opposing armies. As with Juniper, St. Elizabeth’s generosity toward the poor was a source of resentment. Determined to stop her, the king finally confronted St. Elizabeth, angrily demanding that she open up her cloak, which she regularly used to carry bread to give to the poor. She obeyed, and out poured not bread, but roses in full bloom—all the more startling since it was the dead of winter. Apparently, even God likes a practical joke now and then.
- Catechism 30, 1029-1030
- The Way of Holy Fools by Jim Forest
- Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) 7, 10
- The Little Flowers of Saint Francis: Stories of Brother Juniper
- Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? More Saints, Theologians, and Hierarchs Respond at the Catholic humor site The Ironic Catholic
- Catholic Jokes at Fisheaters.com
From the publisher: “In Between Heaven and Mirth, James Martin, SJ, assures us that God wants us to experience joy, to cultivate a sense of holy humor, and to laugh at life’s absurdities—not to mention our own humanity. Father Martin invites believers to rediscover the importance of humor and laughter in our daily lives and to embrace an essential truth: faith leads to joy. Holy people are joyful people, says Father Martin, offering countless examples of healthy humor and purposeful levity in the stories of biblical heroes and heroines, and in the lives of the saints and the world’s great spiritual masters. He shows us how the parables are often the stuff of comedy, and how the gospels reveal Jesus to be a man with a palpable sense of joy and even playfulness. In fact, Father Martin argues compellingly, thinking about a Jesus without a sense of humor may be close to heretical.”